Later tonight ,the Earth will cross paths with dust and debris from the Comet 209P/LINEAR for the first time, which means that we could be in store for a brand new meteor shower, featuring up to 1,000 shooting stars per hour. And if you live in North America — in an area with little light pollution and clear weather — you'll have the best possible view of a potentially dazzling show.
The shooting stars will be visible throughout the night sky, but will appear to be coming from the little-known constellation Camelopardalis, named for an ancient camel-leopard hybrid creature (most likely a giraffe.)
The comet responsible for the shower was only discovered in 2004, which is why scientists don't quite know what to expect tonight. The American Museum of Natural History explains that the scale of tonight's shower depends on how much dust the comet released into space back in the 19th century. Joe Rao explains for AMNH:
Two astronomers at the University of Western Ontario, Quanzhi Ye and Paul Wiegert, find the comet is relatively depleted in dust production and might only produce a handful of bright meteors. Meanwhile, French astronomer, Jérémie Vaubailion is forecasting anywhere from 100 to 400 “shooting stars” per hour, while two other meteor sleuths, Mikhail Maslov (Russia) and Esko Lytinnen (Finland), think that a full-blown meteor storm of up to 1,000 per hour cannot be totally discounted.
It takes the comet about five years to circle the sun.
If we do see a significant event tonight, it should be easy to view with the naked eye. (Weather permitting, of course.) According to forecasts, peak viewing time is between 6:00 and 8:00 UTC, or between 2:00 and 4:00 a.m. EDT. Which is kind of perfect for a Friday night or a Saturday morning, in our opinion.
Here's some more information on the event from NASA:
If you want to see the action, but don't live in North America (or don't feel like going outside) you can watch a live stream of the event courtesy of the robotic telescope service Slooh:
Astrophysicist Gianluca Masi, of the Italian Virtual Telescope Project, will also host a webcast starting at 1:30 a.m. EDT on May 24.
Happy meteor shower watching, friends. And happy meteorite day to you, Mariah.
#AskMariah did you intentionally schedule the release of "Meteorite" with today's Meteor shower?— Nasser AlQatami (@nasque) May 23, 2014
And a happy Memorial Day weekend to you all.